UEA ‘War Of Words’ Speech

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UEA hosted their first progressive media conference yesterday, entitled ‘War Of Words’. I cautiously/gratefully accepted their invitation to speak alongside Sophie Van Der Ham (Young Greens Co-Chair) and Tori Cann (UEA Lecturer from Norwich Feminist Network) on a panel discussing ‘Women, Politics and the Media’, chaired by Asia Patel. I’d been invited on behalf of Belle Jar, an online magazine I began writing for in 2012.

Although I perform in front of audiences in improvised comedy shows, I find public speaking a bit of a nerve shredder. Fortunately, both the panel and the audience were clued-up and compassionate; so it was an intense but incredible 60 minutes of discussion and debate. Tori, Sophie, and I spoke about female politicians, the lack of respect for female voices in the media, and my personal favourite; female anger. The post-debate adrenaline has flushed my memories away, but I wanted to share the speech I prepared (and nearly screwed up multiple times whilst reading aloud).

I urge you to follow Belle Jar, The Norwich Radical, Tori and Sophie on Twitter too!

*** For those who prefer pictures to words, Antony Carpen kindly recorded the speech. Video is at the end of the blog!***

“I would not be here at this event today without the encouragement, enthusiasm, and efforts of other women. I am speaking on behalf of Belle Jar; an online publication created in 2012 by two university students, Louisa Ackermann and Juliette Cule.

Louisa & Juliette created Belle Jar to provide a safe online platform for feminist discussion and debate. Belle Jar exists to inform and inspire; covering the humorous to the humanitarian. The magazine has 2,716 likes on Facebook, and 1,921 followers on Twitter. The site was also nominated for a Guardian Student Media Award, and was the only publication of its kind to be considered in the student website category. As a team, we have been to The Houses of Parliament to discuss issues surrounding the representation of women in the media, and our website continues to publish news updates and articles which seek to inform and challenge our readers.

But Belle Jar is more than a website; it is a support system; a network of voices that work together to help counteract the misogyny which dominates the national media, and impacts our everyday lives. When I submitted my first article to the site in 2012, I had no idea it would bring me to this stage today. Without the internet, I may not have found Belle Jar. Without Belle Jar, I would not have found Louisa or Juliette who have given me the courage to use my voice here today.

I believe in the power of small stories; they are crucial to the structure of larger narratives. My small story is that I used to fear the potential in my own voice. As a teenage girl, I was forever anxious about its volume and its content to the point where I rarely spoke up in school, the playground; anywhere. When Louisa & Juliette suggested I speak at UEA today, my initial reaction was “I’m not qualified for that, I can’t” – Juliette kindly told me not to listen to my imposter syndrome, to go, use my voice, and spread my story. This is the encouragement many young women are lacking in their teens and early twenties. No-one is saying “Go for it, learn as you go!” – instead, it feels like they’re whispering “You’re a girl, what do you know?”

Like many young women, I hesitated when I initially began identifying with feminism. It was intimidating; a movement with an extensive and difficult history which people often told me had ‘gone too far’. It’s easy to believe these things when there’s an absence of support, or no voices offering you an alternative outlook. Fortunately, through social media I found a corner of the internet where girls and women were having similar kinds of experiences. They were being open about their anxieties by speaking about personal experiences of sexism on the internet. Juliette affectionately dubbed Belle Jar as ‘baby feminism’ – a place where those who are at the start of their interactions with the movement can read, discuss, and write about what it means to them. This kind of interaction is essential for modern girls and women. It keeps us connected, inspired and most importantly; comforted in a world where misogyny overshadows many of our attempts to assert ourselves.

To quote Jude Kelly, (Arrtistic Director at The Southbank Centre & founder of the annual Women Of The World Festival); the media is “amoral at best, or immoral at worst, with regards to women”. Women’s appearances, achievements, and mere existences are often undermined by journalists and editors. Just last week, The Sun Newspaper reported the alleged rape of deceased soldier Cheryl James as a ‘romp’, and insulted her death by branding her a ‘Suicide army girl’. Once my initial disgust had subsided, I shared the post on Belle Jar’s Facebook page, and Juliette posted a link to the The Independent Press Standards Organisation website, so our readers could complain about this insulting attempt at journalism. The speed at which social media allows people to distribute information, and act on issues such as this is incredible, and Belle Jar and other publications like it utilise this tool effectively.

It’s easy to dismiss efforts like this as acts of ‘keyboard warfare’ and reduce them down to ‘trying to look like we’re doing good’ without actively striving to change women’s representation in the media. Even small publications like Belle Jar are not free from critics and trolls. We have been labelled ‘anti-men’ and I have personally been branded both a ‘superficial little girl’ and a ‘dumb chick cunt’. Internet abuse is equally as real and damaging as street harassment, and women on the internet are subject to higher levels of vitriol in comparison to men. Louisa, Juliette & I went to an event about ‘Outspoken Women’ with featured classicist Mary Beard, and journalist Laurie Penny. Mary said she found the internet ‘revelatory’ because it exposed the pre-existing misogyny inherent in society, and Laurie dubbed modern women’s online opinions as ‘the mini-skirt of the internet.’

Being an outspoken internet feminist can be both confusing and exhausting; but there is so much to support, and so many supporters who are ready to incite change, that you don’t have to apply yourself to every area of the movement. There is no such thing as a perfect feminist. As women, we are taught from a young age to burden ourselves with the responsibilities of others. Whilst compassion is not to be discouraged, it also leaves us little time to explore our own ideas and develop our own beliefs. Feminist scholars and activists have repeated the phrase ‘the personal is the political’ and it is an essential thing to remember whenever you feel that sexism is undermining or devaluing your opinion.

Belle Jar gave me the support I needed in my early twenties when I was starting to engage with feminism and its goals. It was my spring board in to politics, and introduced me to the issues surrounding abortion, FGM, Sex Education, and street harassment. In the introduction to Laura Bates’ ‘Everyday Sexism’ Sarah Brown writes that “Girls who read, lead.” I began reading Belle Jar articles, which then led me to contribute ideas of my own to the site. I stand before you now as a representative for the magazine, and a friend of its fearless and dedicated creators.

Something as simple as reading an article on the internet can set you on a path of discovery and empowerment. Belle Jar are always looking for new writers, and welcome all kinds of contributions. Please get in touch, and if anyone would like one of our sassy business cards; feel free to come and see me at the end of this discussion.”

Kim Gordon ‘Girl In A Band’

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Girl In a Band was the first book I read after I finished my final university assignment back in June. I’d been waiting to read Kim Gordon‘s memoir since I’d scanned through extracts of it online, and the wait was entirely worth it.

Her writing stirred me. As I made my way through her recollections of childhood, art school, and the music industry; I felt like the luckiest fly on the former Sonic Youth bassist’s wall.

Below are some of my favourite quotes from her memoir:

‘Extreme noise and dissonance can be an incredibly cleansing thing.’

‘I always hated making mistakes, hated getting into trouble, hated not being in control.’

‘Art, and the practice of making art, was the only space that was mine alone, where I could be anyone and do anything, where just by using my head and my hands I could cry, or laugh, or get pissed off.’

‘I was immersed in art, but unformed and trying anything and everything.’

‘They say you always learn something from relationships, even bad ones, and that what your last one lacked, or you missed out on, is what you’re primed to find in the next – unless, that is, you insist on repeating the same pattern over and over again. The codependent woman, the narcissistic man…’

‘Culturally we don’t allow women to be as free as they would like, because that is frightening. We either shun those women or deem them crazy.’

‘I was, and still am, more of the push-everything-else-under-and-let-it-all-out-in-the-music kind of girl. Otherwise I’d probably be a sociopath.’

‘A band almost defines the word dysfunction, except that rather than explaining motivations or discussing anything, you play music, acting out your issues via adrenaline.’

‘Girls with guns, girls in control, girls as revolutionaries, girls acting out – why is that such a perennial turn-on to people?’

‘The most heightened state of being female is watching people watch you.’

‘If you’re at all anxious, the city acts out your anxiety for you, leaving you feeling strangely peaceful.’

‘An Unending kiss – that’s all we ever wanted to feel when we paid money to hear someone play.’

‘The best kind of music comes when you’re being intuitive, unconscious of your body, in some ways losing your mind: the Body/Head dynamic.’

(Image courtesy of: https://33.media.tumblr.com/42544f7ab0a26f843221e663ea1ede67/tumblr_n7mfpj3pgX1syobvco1_500.gif)

What I Learned From Watching The E! Channel, 30 Hours a Week, For 2 Months

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The most most surreal job title I’ve ever had is a ‘Channel Monitor’ for the E! Entertainment Channel. I try to avoid watching any kind of reality TV because I heard a rumour (probably on E! News) that it splits your soul in half, but I was being paid to watch Keeping Up With The Kardashians and other such programmes for 30 hours a week. Only a fool would turn that opportunity down.

Unbelievably, I grew to really quite like The Kardashians (I’m as shocked as you are), but there were some programmes which really made the job….difficult. Ultimately, I learned a lot from my time as an E! Entertainment channel monitor, and I’d like to share my knowledge with you now:

1. I Am Cait was an amazing platform for unknown trans women to talk about transgender issues, and Caitlyn’s transition nearly made me cry at my desk on multiple occasions.

2. Kendall Jenner is an absolute sweetheart, and one of the most naturally beautiful people I’ve ever seen.

3. Khloé is my favourite Kardashian, a hilarious person, and the best aunt in the world (see this list for further proof of her greatness)

4. Paige from WWE Divas is a porcelain predator.

5. E! News should be re-named ‘This is E! News and we have sensationalised everything to the point of fiction, but will be selling it to you as stone cold fact for the next 60 minutes’

6. There is such a thing as a ‘Revenge Bod’, and Kourtney Kardashian apparently has the most ‘smokin’ example of one right now…

 7. Hollywood encourages both hatred of the self and hatred of others. Whether it was ‘disguised’ as comedy on a vicious episode of Fashion Police, or as an article on E! News about a celebrities weight/status/sexuality/relationship – Hollywood seems to rely on playing on people’s anxieties in order to thrive.

8. Most importantly – none of this really matters – turn off your TV, go outside and get some Vitamin D. Reserve E! for hung-over Sundays, employment opportunities, and Kardashian catch-ups.

(Image courtesy of: http://weheartit.com/entry/121472793)

More Lessons From The Laughter Academy

In a previous blog post I spoke about the trials and triumphs of pushing myself back in to performing on stage with The Laughter Academy. I have just performed in my third set of improvised showcases, and I want to share what this course in particular has taught me.

1. You can get through anything if you’re willing to laugh about it

Occasionally, I’d rather implode than discuss the things which make me want to punch holes in the sky screaming ‘I DEFY YOU, STARS!’ in a Romeo-esque rage (see gif below). The ‘things’ vary. I might be distraught watching the Snickers I paid 70p for get stuck during its fall to the bottom of the vending machine. I might be riddled with self-loathing about the decisions I’ve made whilst living by the mantra: ‘What would Courtney Love do?’

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What stops me from having a Shakespearean-style breakdown? Laughter; genuine laughter, fake laughter, nervous laughter, evil laughter. The sound of a laugh – like the effortless sound of a human heart beat – is beautifully reassuring. Week after week, The Laughter Academy has kept my laughter levels at optimum capacity.

2. You can get away with anything if you do it with conviction.

I’ve been wearing the same Dr Martens for five years and the same pair of denim cut-off shorts for six. I consistently wedge in jokes about feminism and having a bob cut. I’m boring, yes, but I’m boring with conviction, and that’s what makes it okay!

If no-one laughs at the joke, that’s okay too; power through until the next punch line and don’t lose focus. This works in all situations; keep bloody going, regardless of how wearisome or embarrassing it might seem. The Laughter Academy has supported my comical outbursts and forced me to think outside of my bob-shaped box.

3. Time is precious – don’t take it for granted

Time flies: whether it’s the short time I’m on stage or the extra hour I stay behind in the pub after class. Lessons and showcases seem to last only moments, which is why they need to be cherished. I have made friends at The Laughter Academy who encourage me to pursue my ambitions. They won’t let me give up; even when I am convinced I should.

(Gif courtesy of: http://33.media.tumblr.com/4defd892aab30fd27d4e355ffe395d32/tumblr_n4el29Po661qj4315o1_500.gif)

The Runaways

 

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In between panicking about assignment deadlines, trying to be funny at comedy class, and drunk-dancing under the strobes on a Saturday night; I have been reading Cherie Currie’s biography Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway.

‘Cherie fucking Currie, the Queen of Hate.

Currie’s book documents the time she spent as the lead singer of the all-girl rock group, The Runaways. The group was fronted by Cherie, with Lita Ford on guitar, Jackie Fox on bass, Sandy West on drums, and the amazing Joan Jett on guitar and vocals. Cherie joined the band when she was fifteen and transformed in to the Cherry Bomb on stage, wearing raucous outfits and promising to ‘have ya, grab ya, ’till you’re sore!’ Together, they proved to the world that girls could rock.

‘There was a point when I realized that you could get away with just about anything so long as you do it with enough conviction.’ 

Neon Angel was adapted for the silver screen in 2010, appearing under the name of The Runaways. The film was directed and co-written by Floria Sigismondi, and starred Dakota Fanning as Cherie, and Kristen Stewart as Joan Jett. After watching the film, I had two immediate desires:

  1. Join an all girl rock band and become a Cherry Bomb.
  2. Read Cherie Currie’s memoir to see if being a member of The Runaways,really was as wild as the film suggested.

Whilst Sigismondi’s film is faithful to the spirit of Currie’s book, it blends and overlooks some of the more personal aspects of Currie’s biography (which makes sense from a commercial, film-making perspective). Cherie was an identical twin, which is not addressed in the film, and the brutality of The Runaway’s manager, Kim Fowley, was also diluted on the screen. The severe trauma(s) that Cherie Currie experienced are also left on the pages of her biography.

Before she had reached the age of seventeen, Currie had been raped by her sister’s boyfriend, sexually assaulted by several men, and had to terminate a potentially wanted pregnancy. Add to this the pressures of cutting records with a successful rock band, and a heightened exposure to drugs and alcohol; and it’s hard to not regard Currie as a phoenix rising up out of some truly hellish ashes.

‘I realized that I had spent most of my life as a slave to something. I grew up as an emotional slave to the rotten kids in school, to my parent’s bitter fights. Then, after Derek came along, I became a slave to something else: I became a slave to my own hatred and rage. It was on the road with the Runaways that I came to the conclusion that all of that was finally behind me. I was free to do whatever I wanted. I would never be a slave to anything again.’

Below is a clip of Dakota Fanning performing Cherry Bomb in The Runaways film. Read Currie’s book and watch Sigismondi’s film, and prepare to feel the explosion of The Cherry Bomb.

 

**The edition I’m reading/quoting from: Currie, C. (2010), Neon Angel: A Memoir of a Runaway, Tony O’Neill (ed.), New York: HarperCollins Publishers.